Tobi Hill-Meyer

Whose Day of Remembrance?

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | November 21, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: GLSEN, HRC, Trans Day of Remembrance

This year the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) lists 162 trans people killed. That's over 3 a week. The number is significantly higher than previous years (which had generally been between 20 and 30), and most people are attributing that to being able to better track trans murders, especially those outside the U.S.

When faced with this overwhelming sense of reality, it's understandably difficult to know how to react these deaths. However, more and more often we hear about events put on by cis-led LGBT organizations that utterly miss the point and border on offensive. This year, the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley (GAGV) has caught a lot of attention for their TDOR event, which is a comedy fundraiser headlined by a non-trans performer. It's a move being highly criticized in the trans community, even being called "a minstrel show."

I can't do much more but shake my head in shame. Yet it leaves me questioning the role of Transgender Day of Remembrance in the larger LGBT movement and the role of cis queers in the event.

Ceridwen Troy gives a compelling account of her frustrations organizing GAGV's event last year and her perspective on this year's event. It reflects a pattern of failure that has become so common among cis-led LGBT organizations as to be well known in trans circles. First they complain that the Day of Remembrance is "such a downer," then they want to do something more upbeat. In this case they hire a performer, then to cover the expenses (and perhaps raise a little money) they charge admission. There are so many things wrong with that.

I understand that TDOR is not the best organizing tool -- it's not meant to be. It's a shame that in most places it's the only trans event of the year that the wider cis LGB community gets involved in trans issues. It's NOT the trans community's equivelant to pride or national coming out day, or even the national day of silence.

The day of remembrance by definition is addressing those who have experienced the most oppression and inherently becomes an event that recognizes intersections of identity. We're not just talking about trans people here, but overwhelmingly trans women of color, many of whom are dealing with poverty, involved in sex work, living in the global south, and/or are immigrants.

With that in mind, it can be awkward to watch white, middle-upper class, trans male college students who have little or no risk of experiencing the same violence organize events. I've been to my share of name reading vigils where the readers could not pronounce the names. I've seen people become very afraid that they could find themselves on next year's list, without having a clue about how most of the people on the list lived their lives.

Yet as awkward as that can be, when the organizers aren't even trans the events can become downright appropriative. The problem inevitably starts when the cis organizers decide that rather than do another depressing event, wouldn't it be great if they could turn it more upbeat. We've seen GLSEN attempt to re-brand it "TransAction Day," and after community criticism they thankfully decided to hold their "Action Day" in February instead. We've seen the HRC hold a TDOR event competing with another event organized by the trans community, but luckily the headlining speaker told them that was inapropriate and asked them to cancel the event. Then they attempted to claim credit for TDOR events happening that they were specifically not invited to participate in. And it seems like several organizations have used rather unfortunate language for the day, such as "celebrating" the event or even inviting people to a "fun, laid-back evening."

These don't seem to be mistakes that non-LGBT organizations have made. The city government has been involved in my local TDOR for years, so has a local anti-violence organization. Both have always seen themselves in an ally position and have been sure to let the trans people in their organizations take the lead without dumping the entire workload on them. I can only conclude that cis-led LGBT organizations feel some level of ownership of the event because of the "T" in their acronym even when their leadership only has token trans representation, if that.

There is a simple answer to all those cis LGB organizers who don't like the way in which TDOR has been structured by the trans community -- don't do a TDOR event! Step back and let the trans community do it. If you really want to have an upbeat and celebratory trans event don't hold it on the trans day of remembrance. When some organizers in my town (cis and trans) decided that there should be more trans events than the annual memorial of our deaths, they created a trans week of celebration and held it in a completely different part of the year.

There are some folks who can pull of a celebratory funeral, but in those cases it's filled with positive memories to distract from feelings of depression. When you have never met the deceased and spend the evening watching entertainment it only seems like you're trying not to deal with the subject. Now I know the performer at GAGV's event is intelligent and oppression aware, so hopefully she'll make the best of a bad situation. Nonetheless, the event still seems incredibly callous. Charging admission at a higher price than many of the trans people on the TDOR list could afford seems insulting. Even worse, it creates the appearance of profiting off of our deaths, which seems incredibly inappropriate when they obviously have problems with representing trans people. It's almost like we're worth more to them dead than alive.

Cis allies, straight and queer, have contributed a lot to TDOR and the trans movement in general. The problem isn't simply when cis people are involved in organizing, but when they don't see their role to be that of an ally.


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Very interesting and informative. Leaves me thinking quite a bit about the issue. Thanks.

Well said, Tobi

Fortunately the TDOR in Atlanta yesterday was a class act. Organizer Tracee McDaniel and the TDOR sponsors did an excellent job. My friend Betty Couvertier has more at http://uniteandact.org/id31.html . Also see her ENDA page at http://uniteandact.org/id24.html .

There are some folks who can pull of a celebratory funeral, but in those cases it's filled with positive memories to distract from feelings of depression. When you have never met the deceased and spend the evening watching entertainment it only seems like you're trying not to deal with the subject.

There is indeed a fine line. The Iowa City DOR event last nite was followed by a talk by Kate Bornstein and then some performance art stuff - but it was all free admission.

Now I know the performer at GAGV's event is intelligent and oppression aware, so hopefully she'll make the best of a bad situation.

I don't want to make assumptions either way - particularly since your post is the first I've ever heard of the person. However, for some reason, seeing the following at the link you provided makes me a bit queasy:

Performance artist Mildred Gerestant has been developing her gender-bending, misogyny-attacking characters since 1995

Why do I get the feeling that "misogyny-attacking" might include "SRS-attacking"?

Again - I don't know. I've never heard of the person - but I'm sure there are descriptions of Alix Dobkin out there that use the same or similar terminology.

Charging admission at a higher price than many of the trans people on the TDOR list could afford seems insulting. Even worse, it creates the appearance of profiting off of our deaths

Appearance?

I booked Dred's performance several years ago when I was the events coordinator for my campus student LGBTQ group. A genderqueer professor connected us. She's a drag king. Her performance at the time was very much based on her own experiences of racism and sexism as a drag king and a person of color. I don't recall anything in the performance about trans stuff whatsoever.

I really have no clue what she's doing now, but I'd assume more of the same. I can pretty much guarantee, though, that it's not "SRS-attacking" or painting transition as misogynistic. But even so, I could still see it turning out very poorly. I mean, if she's hired to do her standard performance, there are only so many alterations you can do for the circumstance. And being a non-trans comedian who's performance involves trans-masculinity to headline an event about trans folks, mostly trans-feminine/female, who have died is a rather awful set of circumstances.

As for the appearance of profit, I say that only because I don't know what their budget is. Unless they have more than 200 folks buying tickets, they might only be recouping a portion of their costs (Dred is pretty expensive).

Oh, and if anyone could pull of a celebratory funeral I'd trust Kate Bornstein to do it. Given that she wrote a serious book about suicide that was also light-hearted and funny.

Yah - one thing she touched on, several times, was that the DOR list doesn't include suicides (though, if I recall, there is at least one woman whose suicide was so directly link-able to an attack that she was included.)

Melissa Dunagan | November 22, 2009 2:43 AM

The Transgender Day of Reminiscence is a day to honor the trans people that where killed. These people where taken from us way to to soon. I hope in doing this memorial service will let the world know these people where loved, and where Gods children and in his eyes they had value.

Awesome post here, Tobi! When us cis GLB try to helm things in honor of the T, we almost consistently get it wrong--rather than seek out folk from the trans-community to take the lead. One of the main problems is reaching out. GLB often don't know who or how to ask--especially if they're young and new at leadership. I doubt they realize how offfensive their actions really are.

Here in Champaign, we're missing a single community organization, and the trans college students I know don't know any trans people off campus. I don't even know where to begin reaching out here. I know we have a community--we just have to--but how can I start to respectfully include the local trans community, if I can't even find a starting point?

I have a question. Is the term "cis LGBs" a way of distinguishing between LGBs who are also trans and LGBs who aren't trans? And should we start saying "hetero trans" to distinguish between LGB trans folk and straight trans folk? (By the way, "cis queer" is just plain offensive not to mention an oxymoron.)

I feel very conflicted by this language. I don't know what side I'm on. I don't know if I'm considered a trans ally or trans. I only know I'm gay and not cisgender...genderqueer if you like.

I just ended up remembering alone, empathizing with victims in my own way, without any LGB or T community. Y'all can fight amongst yourselves I guess.

GrrrlRomeo,

Yes, I am using cis LGB to distinguish. If I only said LGB when I was talking about non-trans folks it would be invizibilizing to all the trans folks who are LGB. And yes, if I was talking about straight trans folk, I would specify. Because statements about straight trans folk that are addressed to all trans folk sends the untrue message that we are all straight.

When I say cis, it is purely a descriptive term. It is literally the counter to trans, the same way hetero- is the counter to homo-, or pre- is the counter to post-. Cis queer is not an oxymoron unless you see queer and trans as synonymous. I know lots of queer people who are not trans. Cis queer is an adequate descriptor for them and they would be very shocked by someone telling them they aren't cis just because they are queer.

I understand that some folks are caught in the borders between cis and trans. There shouldn't be anything in my article to indicate that everyone is either cis or trans and there is nothing else or nothing in between. It's the same way it's possible to talk about white people without indicating that multiracial people don't exist. There are also folks caught in the borders between white and PoC, between straight and queer, between woman and man. However, it would be unreasonable to respond to that situation by claiming that white, straight, and man were "offensive" terms that no one should use. It's similarly unreasonable to claim folks shouldn't use cis.

I'd be happy to talk with you more about this, but we should take it off thread, as it's quite off topic and unfortunately a good many discussions have been derailed by this topic. You can email me at tobi@bilerico.com. Alternatively, you could read and/or comment at the following blog posts dedicated to the topic:

http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/a-point-about-cis/
http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/cis-is-not-an-academic-term/
http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/cis-2/
http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/cis-is-hostile-terminology-really/

Regan DuCasse | November 22, 2009 10:15 AM

Well said Tobi. I learned something important from you. I had planned on attending the vigil set up in West Hollywood, CA tonight. I've done that often, and I don't forget that this is a commemoration of those lost to violence.

Education and awareness of course, that can lead to understanding could never hurt. I suppose it shouldn't matter if there are higher concentrations of members of this community in bigger cities and if that makes a difference anywhere else with regard to support systems and access and protection.

The unfortunate thing I suppose is agreeing on the best course of attention and funding, and it seems still difficult not to make entertainment a part of it.
A situation in which the gravity of what motivates all this is lost, to, as you say, to those whose connection to any of this is somewhat abstract.
I consider myself an ally and even I get a little confused as to how and where to be more effective and look to my trans gender friends to lead the way.
That might be true of many just like me, but nevertheless...smart reporting such as yours Tobi is extremely important.

Right on, Tobi. It seems to me that what is lacking in such situations is willingness to face trans reality, a little humility on the part of LGB leaders, and a real desire to encourage trans people into positions of leadership. My sense is that LGB leaders often feel uncomfortable with trans people who want to raise difficult issues, and that's pretty much the only kind of issues we got. A number of LGBnotquiteT organizations have asked me to work with them, but balk when I ask for an understanding on my right to dissent from the organizational position on certain issues affecting the trans community. The mostly-G leaders don't want to face trans reality, want nothing less than total control, and wonder why it's hard to get trans people to work with them.

I am very confused on an issue and was wondering where to find the answer??
Question: Who tracks the number and validity of T-individuals who are murdered annually?
Here in Chicago, we honored 115 individuals who were murdered in 2009, and we were told that the breakout was 31 from the USA and the remainder are from outside the USA. I've seen a diversity of different numbers over the past month, and I now see in Toby Hill-Meyer's blog above that indicates the number is 162. Who, if anyone officially tracks the validity of these numbers?
Thanks Lori F.

I linked to the official listing at the top, but here it is again: http://www.transgenderdor.org/?page_id=555.

The reason for the discrepency is that the list was being updated up until the last minute. In fact, when I read it yesterday and did my final count, there was a new person who had been murdered on the day of remembrance. There were also 20 additional people who hadn't had their info put up yet when I had counted a day or two earlier.

The website doesn't actually display a count, so it's up to interested folks to scroll through the names and count them. I'm guessing a lot of organizers did a count at the beginning of the week (or earlier) and just went with that number even though there was a note at the top indicating that it was still being updated. You'll see that note has now changed to "Last updated November 21st, 2009."

Hi,

I agree with what you wrote, Tobi.

Here, in Chicago, the Night of Fallen Stars (celebation of the Living) was held last night, 21 Nov. It was the first time, in many years, that it was done that way here.

"A time to dance, a time to mourn"
"A time to laugh, a time to weep"

I suggest that TDOR be a separate day/night with nothing else involved, but Remembering.

Any separate events that celebrate the Living, can be paths on the way to completing the grieving process, but never forgetting why the grieving process was required.

For tragic deaths, such as those who are Remembered during TDOR, the grieving process is much more difficult to complete, or to even approach completion... especially if the victim was someone personally known, like a family member or friend.

Is this not the case for those, who we personally know, who are not Trans?

Perhaps a solution might be to celebrate Trans "all the days (and nights) of the year," but set aside TDOR for Remembering and for the beginning of the grieving process.

I also feel that Trans allies can be (and are) helpful. However, the real process of organizing Remembering and organizing the celebration/completion of grieving, is task of those who are part of the "immediate and extended family," just as with any death.

Even after most funerals, there is usually a gathering to share food, to console, regather the family... and carry on into the future.

Thank you Tobi.

Take care; please be, and ALWAYS stay, safe and well.

Huggs,
jami

Remembrance Day in Canada is the day we remember those who died in combat. No one complains that it's too morbid. Mourning those we have lost is a natural human impulse.

Likewise, Transgender Day of Remembrance is about mourning those we have lost from our own community. And that's entirely as it should be. Any other kind of event should be held on a different day. You don't have a cabaret with performers dressed as soldiers on Remembrance Day.

I'm glad to say that the Vancouver TDOR was not about entertainment. It was organized by trans people but with participation of many allies. We marched with candles for several blocks to a theatre where the memorial was held. The first speaker reminded us that the woman who was killed in Boston, and whose death started TDOR, was black and a sex trade worker, not just trans, and that the totality of people's identities should be acknowledged. Another speaker explained about how this year's event came together. We were honoured that MP Bill Siksay spoke briefly, letting us know of the bills he has introduced in Parliament to add gender identity and expression to the human rights code as well as to the hate crime statute of the Criminal Code. We read the names, and too often "name unknown," of those who were murdered during the previous year due to transphobic hatred and violence.

There was nothing terribly formal about it, but it was well organized and sincere. And we knew why we were there.

This reminds me of when promotional materials for World AIDS Day talk about "celebrating" it. It just makes me want to vomit.

Awesome post, Tobi. I think it's important that we continue to impress upon non-transfolk of all stripes but particularly LGB's that the TDOR A) is considered to be a day of solemn memorial, not a holiday or a party, and B) any attempt to turn it from a memorial to a party will be seen as a sign of disrespect.

That's what it has to be about, I think, respect. We have to say to those in our community and anyone else who gets it into their head to try to lighten up the TDOR that when you disrespect that day, its meaning, and its intent, you disrespect transgender people and the memories of our fallen.

There are certain things that are just unacceptable out of hand and need no negotiation. This is one of them. We need to make it crystal clear that we will consider this sort of event an act of disrespect and encourage people to avoid it and attend a proper memorial instead. I'm sure there are many inventive ways we could get the message out.

I have been involved with the Atlanta TD from it's beginning in 2000, co-coordinating it for the first 6 years. In the past, we had HRC try to co-op it for their fund raising purposes. We have been drenched by rain and frozen by cold weather, standing by the Capital Building.

Nerissa was correct in saying this year was a class act. Allison Robinson was one of our speakers and even though she works for "them," she never once used the "H" word. She was also a class act.

I will be posting videos of the speakers, but I put together a beautiful video of the photos I took and of those we lost, at least those we had picture of.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1lyMf9rlDc

Tobi, the last I checked, there were 95 people on the list. Where did you get 162?

"Tobi, the last I checked, there were 95 people on the list. Where did you get 162?"

http://www.tgeu.org/tdor2009english

162 murdered.

Ethan St. Pierre took over the TDoR site and 'tally'. He's tried to include a large number of murders of transwomen in Latin America which haven't always been incorporated into the TDoR numbers. These more inclusive stats were from a recent European study of anti-trans violence back in June '09 (http://www.liminalis.de/project.html). They basically stated there was a murder of a trans person somewhere around the world every third day. Don't want to speak for him, but I think he tried to use that very thorough study as a baseline, then add any cases he found out about, especially numerous crimes in Brazil.

Related to this post is the way the memorials and statements about the Lopez Mercado murder in Puerto Rico have erased the transphobic nature of this crime (the victim was totally presenting as female when murdered) and have gone out of their way to ID the victim as "a gay man" and the crime as "homophobic". Have we forgotten how Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green were all identified as gay men (by straight and gay media/orgs) for the first month or two after their murders? Have we forgotten how Lawrence King was portrayed by gay media and orgs as a gay male even though hir murder happened specifically when zie started extensively cross-dressing? While I understand not everyone who's murdered while crossdressed is a transperson, the very existence of that circumstance should give people serious pause before they 'honor' the victim by essentially erasing their life and death struggle to assert their identity and gender. That's not a memorial, it's appropriation and objectification of the victim for their own purposes.

Ethan St. Pierre took over the TDoR site and 'tally'. He's tried to include a large number of murders of transwomen in Latin America which haven't always been incorporated into the TDoR numbers. These more inclusive stats were from a recent European study of anti-trans violence back in June '09 (http://www.liminalis.de/project.html). They basically stated there was a murder of a trans person somewhere around the world every third day. Don't want to speak for him, but I think he tried to use that very thorough study as a baseline, then add any cases he found out about, especially numerous crimes in Brazil.

Related to this post is the way the memorials and statements about the Lopez Mercado murder in Puerto Rico have erased the transphobic nature of this crime (the victim was totally presenting as female when murdered) and have gone out of their way to ID the victim as "a gay man" and the crime as "homophobic". Have we forgotten how Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green were all identified as gay men (by straight and gay media/orgs) for the first month or two after their murders? Have we forgotten how Lawrence King was portrayed by gay media and orgs as a gay male even though hir murder happened specifically when zie started extensively cross-dressing? While I understand not everyone who's murdered while crossdressed is a transperson, the very existence of that circumstance should give people serious pause before they 'honor' the victim by essentially erasing their life and death struggle to assert their identity and gender. That's not a memorial, it's appropriation and objectification of the victim for their own purposes.